Joe Biden didn’t get the memo

480px-Biden_20132008 was the first election since 1952 in which neither the serving president nor the serving vice-president was on the ballot. It was the first election since 1928 in which neither president nor vice-president had even sought to be on the ballot. While President Obama is known not to be a great admirer of his predecessor, but there is one key area in which his management style has followed that of President Bush: his vice-president is a policy partner, not a designated successor.

Bush and Obama both chose as running mates older men, better-connected in Washington and able to take the lead in developing policy and managing Congress. While other vice-presidents including Al Gore and, especially, George H W Bush have been key figures in the administration they always faced a divided loyalty: yes, they were supporting the president, but they were also positioning themselves to replace him. Bush 43 chose a running mate who had considered a presidential run in 1996, but decided against it: a man who was decidedly not a candidate for 2008. Bush considered replacing Cheney as his running mate in 2004, but anyone he had chosen at that time, whether it was Bill Frist or Condoleeza Rice, would have become an immediate player in the 2008 primaries. Cheney was a more effective policy partner because he was not a candidate as well. 

But Joe Biden didn’t get the memo. Biden has been a key part of Obama’s administration. His previous roles on the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees has given him real weight in these areas, and he has also been critical in securing congressional support for the president’s economic policy. But he is also running for president, and this makes it much harder for him to be an impartial enforcer for the president. He sees other key Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Andrew Cuomo of New York as possible rivals. 

Unusually, however, Biden is not the front-runner. He will be a candidate and a significant player in the primaries, but he is not the candidate to beat as Gore, Bush the Elder, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon all were. Hillary Clinton is the candidate to beat. All other Democrats are reacting to her decision.

Biden has made up his mind. He is too old to late this race slip by. He is in it whether Clinton decides to run or not. Martin O’Malley is probably in if Clinton runs and definitely if she does not. Elizabeth Warren is under pressure from hardline liberals to be a candidate. If Clinton is out then she is in, but she may decide against running against both Clinton and Biden.

But perhaps the person whose decision most depends on Clinton’s is Andrew Cuomo. If Clinton is in, he is backing her all the way. If Clinton is out then Cuomo is in. He would inherit some key parts of her team, though he would probably end up splitting her advisors with Warren. 

If that is how the race pans out, it would be a very interesting one. Warren is a paleo-liberal firebrand. Cuomo is a modernist reformer who is willing to restructure government pensions and confront the unions. They offer very different visions of the future. Biden would be a distraction.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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